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In listing objections to the embargo policy of Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine, and perhaps other journals (APS News, August/September 2000), Alan Chodos was too polite to mention that it gives editors and the referees of manuscripts a long period of exclusive knowledge of advances that may affect share prices of companies on (and off) the stock market.
Charles W. McCutchen
Lake Placid, New York
The policy of Nature and Science magazines of embargo on any prior public release as a condition of publication may be counterproductive and, perhaps, even plainly foolish. However, Alan Chodos unjustly puts all the blame on journals. At least part of it should be duly assigned to the authors.
Why, after all, they are so insistent on publishing exactly in Nature? If they indeed have something important and urgent to report, what stops them from making immediate public release through any of the news media and/or the Internet? Their priority claims (if there are any) will not be affected by the mode of publication they could choose. (A more detailed report can, of course, be submitted to a specialized peer reviewed journal).
In reality, what we have here is a fallacious notion of the "prestige" of some selected journals. As it was put once, "it is not the discovery, it is on what paper you manage to print it, stupid." The allure of publishing in a fancy tabloid overtakes the professional duty of scientists - to make their important discoveries publicly known without unnecessary delays. Yes, it is true that the publication in Nature brings with it some sort of celebrity status. But one is prompted to ask whether indeed our present-day science operates by the standards more akin to Hollywood than to Galileo and Darwin?
Alexander A. Berezin
McMaster University, Canada
In a comment on an earlier letter regarding the inclusion of solar processes in the Earth Science and Geophysics discipline, Erika Harnett passes on a misconception that the existence of the ionosphere is due to energetic particles from the Sun (APS News, Letters, August/September 2000). In fact, the dominant source of ionization in the ionosphere is not energetic particles, but rather solar ultraviolet radiation at wavelengths smaller than about 150 nm (See, for example, Roble et al. [J. Geophys. Res., 92, 8745, 1987].)
The incorrect view that energetic particles from the Sun are the only source of "space weather" is not uncommon. However, neither direct solar particles nor accelerated magnetospheric particles rival the solar radiative energy (and ionization) sources for the global thermosphere (the atmospheric region above about 90 km) and its embedded ionosphere, where the most important space weather effects on human activities take place. The solar ultraviolet irradiance varies on time scales ranging from minutes (flares) to decadal (solar cycle) and longer, and is indeed a major contributor to both weather and climate in the ionosphere.
Robert R. Meier
Head, Upper Atmospheric Physics Branch; Naval Research Laboratory
Erika Harnett, in her letter in the August/September issue of APS News, emphasizes that "one cannot ignore the effect on the Earth's environment caused by the Sun and its celestial neighbors," and she gives as examples auroral activity, existence of the ionosphere, and the dependence of life on production of heavy elements in supernovae. These examples are certainly important. But the most immediate influence of the Sun on life here at Earth's surface is the solar visible radiation that penetrates tens of meters into the oceans, and solar ultraviolet radiation that penetrates deep into the atmosphere, and solar infrared radiation that heats the lower atmosphere and the surface. Elements of NASA's "Earth Observing System" (EOS), as emphasized in my earlier letter, study impacts of the Sun on Earth, including ACRIMSAT and Terra.
Another major component of EOS is SORCE, or the "SOlar Radiation and Climate Experiment." Due to launch into low Earth orbit in mid-2002, SORCE will carry an active cavity radiometer like ACRIMSAT, and also three spectrometers being built at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Solar Physics. SORCE will provide the first space-based measurements of variations in solar spectral irradiance near the peak of the Sun's energy output, extending continuously from the far ultraviolet, through the visible, into the near infrared, in particular including the wavelengths carrying the most energy into the troposphere and oceans. We know that the Sun's radiative energy output varies with an amplitude of about 0.1 % over the 11 year solar cycle. However, to understand the implications of this for Earth, especially near Earth's surface, where we live, we must know how these solar variations are distributed over ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths, since these most influence the Earth's ozone layer, clouds, and upper layers of the oceans.
Important contributions in Earth Sciences often go unreported, perhaps because supernovae and solar storms are so dramatic in themselves, that difficulties in working out their consequences here at home are sometimes overlooked.
Robert F. Cahalan
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
I was interested to read Richard Klein's letter in the August/September APS News. Klein seemed to tacitly agree with the quoted statement of Hugh Porter that the Y2K computer bug "didn't really have any effect at all." Please inform Messrs. Klein and Porter that on Jan.1, 2000 my Quicken software crashed, and indicated a zero balance in every account that I had. Various attempts to fix the problem were futile, and I finally wound up buying a new computer and switching to Microsoft Money to keep track of my finances. In fairness to Quicken, I should mention that they did eventually provide a free and upgraded version of their software which was Y2K compliant, but by then it was too late.
Paul F. Zweifel
I have uncovered some good news for physicists, which I would like to share with the readers of APS News. Jupiter Scientific Publishing has produced an extensive, comparative tabulation of salaries by scientific discipline and experience based on data compiled from Salary.com. (http://ajanta.sci.ccny.cuny.edu/˜jupiter/pub/sciinfo/) It turns out that physicists are the highest paid scientists! According to the data, the median annual salary of a physicist with five or more years work experience is currently about $96,000, whereas experienced biologists, chemists and geologists respectively earn about $73,000, $79,000 and $73,000. Thus, physicists earn around $20,000 more than scientists in other disciplines. These figures do not include bonuses or fringe benefits.
Physicists with 2 to 4 years of experience earn on average about $61,000 whereas those with 0 to 2 years of experience earn about $50,000. These salary figures are roughly $10,000 higher than those for biologists, chemists and geologists. Biochemists are relatively poorly paid with salaries in the $40,000-$50,000 range with only a slight increase for seniority.
Salary.com claims that its data are accurate and up to date. The American Institute of Physics conducts its own employment survey, the most recent of which is for 1997 and was published in the March, 2000 issue of Physics Today. There, it was reported that physics bachelor degree graduates obtained a median salary of $37,000 whereas new PhD graduates earned $62,000 in the industrial sector. Since Salary.com does not distinguish undergraduates and from graduates nor industrial from academic, its figures are in approximate agreement with those of AIP.
The data are good news to both established physicists and physics students. A degree in physics is not only worth a lot intellectually, it's worth a lot materially.
City College of New York
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